Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Texas Study Finds ELL Students Face “Triple Segregation”

In Texas, poor Hispanic children who are English language learners often attend intensely segregated schools, a new study has found.

Such children face “triple segregation” because they are isolated by virtue of their ethnicity, socioeconomic background and language skills. The trend is found in both urban and suburban settings.

Education professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme from the University of Texas at Austin examined 2011 demographic data from the Texas Education Agency to make their findings in their study, “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o and ELL Students in Texas.”

The AP reports that in 2012, about 838,000 limited proficient children attended Texas schools. They made up about 16.2 percent of the total enrollment. In 2011, about 9 percent of Texas schools were found to be majority ELL, with most of those being elementary schools. The study reveals that of Texas schools with a majority ELL enrollment, 89 percent have a study body that is majority economically disadvantaged.

However, the study found a bright spot. Majority-ELL elementary schools were more likely to earn the state’s top ranking of “exemplary” than to be rated low-performing. The researchers found 72 “exemplary” and 15 low-performing majority-ELL elementary schools in Texas, noting that “the state should be applauded for these numbers.”

However, the researchers cautioned that those same children tend to go on to attend low-performing middle and high schools. And ELLs have very high dropout rates in Texas.

Researchers point out that Texas has a long history of segregating its Hispanic children. At first, this was accomplished by placing them in separate schools. Texas schools were targeted with lawsuits because of such practices long before the Brown v. Board case. Later, the state segregated children by placing them in separate classes within a school.

As a reporter, I visited many schools that had “triple segregation.” In Texas, bilingual education is required for ELLs when there is a large enough population and by nature of the program these children are placed in separate classes. Do bilingual programs inherently segregate? Are there benefits at all to this, however? The study acknowledges that this question has come up in debates over the instructional program.

“As the first-generation cases were resolved, the friction between bilingual education and desegregation became more apparent, as courts and districts sought to balance the need, on the one hand, to offer linguistically appropriate instruction for subgroups of students who do not yet speak English, and the danger, on the other hand, that such practices could result in racial and linguistic isolation of those students,” the study says.

Lastly, segregation has increased as overall districts and communities have become residentially segregated. Much of the residential segregation growth is happening in the suburbs.

This study is fascinating because it goes a step beyond racial segregation and examines a new type of segregation that has arisen based on linguistic isolation. It’s conversation worth having. It also raises the question, how does attending a segregated school impact how children learn English? And in a majority minority state such as Texas, are these trends just part of the demographic shift?